Moroccans take to the streets to protest economic reforms and unemployment
Thousands of people marched through the Moroccan capital on Sunday to protest against unemployment and the cost of living, ahead of plans by the Islamist-led government to push for social and economic reforms.
Described as a "national march of protest" pushing for greater freedoms and rights, several thousands of demonstrators, brightly attired in yellow, marched through the streets of downtown Rabat in a light rain.
Police said 3,000 marchers took part in the peaceful protest called by two trade unions. Other estimates said they numbered between 5,000 and 10,000.
The protesters were particularly irate over government plans to reform laws dealing with labor unions, including docking the pay of strikers and measures that the government says would increase transparency in union finances.
Chanting the "people want the fall of the government" and “Morocco is witnessing social regression, the activists called for the departure of Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane.
Other slogans denounced government policies, corruption and the high cost of living, an AFP photographer said.
They also accused Benkirane of pushing the country into a "ravine."
Benkirane's Justice and Development party won the most seats in elections following pro-democracy uprisings in 2011, and he took the helm of the government promising to fight corruption and address the North African country's huge gap between the rich and the poor.
His fractious coalition has achieved little, however, and is currently embroiled in the sensitive process of reforming the massive subsidies and pension systems.
"The government has done nothing so far, not for the economy, not for social reforms and not even for the fight against corruption," said Bouchra Sandeel, a teacher from Marrakech marching in the demonstration.
She expressed fear that efforts to reform the subsidies on fuel and food staples would hit the poor hardest in this country of 32 million.
Talib Ait Ahmed, a cannery worker from the southern coast city of Agadir, said he was protesting for a better life for workers in the face of the rising food prices and widespread unemployment.
Ait Ahmed acknowledged that the government faces constraints, but complained that the prime minister wasn't doing anything to improve economic mobility and expand the small middle class.
"He's not reacting. He sees the problem but hasn't taken it in hand yet," Ait Ahmed said.
Despite some reforms following the 2011 demonstrations, true power in Morocco lies with the monarchy and those close to it. Benkirane has repeatedly blamed "remnants" of the previous government in the bureaucracy and administration for blocking his reform efforts.
A poll published Friday by the daily L'Economiste gave Benkirane a 64 percent approval rating after just over a year in office. The paper noted it was a comfortable margin, but a 22 point drop from his 88 percent rating last year.
Morocco is facing slower growth and the budget deficit reached over six percent of GDP in 2011, against a backdrop of 30 percent youth unemployment.